Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aggressive Gendering

You guys know I have strong feelings about gender stereotyping.  I've hated it for as long as I can remember.  What exactly is it I hate so much?  It ultimately boils down to dimensionality.  In all things I am attracted to depth and complexity; I would rather study an onion than a leaf, for example.  I prefer paintings and books and dance pieces and movies which are layered and rich enough that one look at it is not enough to grasp the entire meaning.  People are pretty complex, and I hate it when it is assumed that who I am is discernible at a glance.
I don't assume that about people.  That's a lie and you know it.  I do assume I can sum up others by appearance all the time, and self correct constantly because I believe with such ferocity that it is wrong.  Not just unfair, but unethical.  Clearly, if I assume that because a child is a girl it is a waste of effort to educate her, this has moral implications that go exactly opposite to my value system, and I fail to see how less damaging instances of two dimensionality are any less wrong.
I know boys and girls are different.  But I think our culture goes pretty far in teaching us how to be different, on top of our already differentness.  This bothers me, because it limits us by creating a two dimensional expectation which others have and we fulfill, rather than learning about ourselves on a deep level and expecting others to approach us in much the same way, with healthy respect for our complexity.
With this in mind, I sometimes dress my babies in non gender specific clothing.  Because babies are cute, and don't have to be strictly pink and blue all the time.  When they are older they will learn fairly quickly what's expected of them, I don't need to stuff them in a box with arbitrary boy/girl characteristics from the minute they are born.
I've discovered that people don't like this.  I've had four or five people half jokingly chide me for dressing Amarys in ambiguous clothing so they 'can't tell' if she's a boy or a girl.  So they have to *gasp* ASK (and often when they ask they choose to guess, wrongly, which creates a bit of embarrassment, which contributes to the chiding, of course).  I'm a bit exasperated by this, because I don't want to be chided.  I want people to see Amarys for who she is, not what she sports between her legs, but more than that I don't really see what the big deal is.  I'm not keeping it a secret like that couple back east whose baby's sex is a big secret from the world and whose name is ambiguous, and who rustled up this big emotional reaction from people sometime this past year.  Why do people care so much that they react so strongly?  I'm the one who should choose whether or not to be offended that people can't tell she's a girl. I'm not offended.  I've never been one to correct people when they guess wrong, which they often do with babies because, well, their looks are pretty homogenous.  Someone did guess boy today when Amarys was sitting in a shopping cart wearing a bright pink dress; there's no accounting for blindness, I guess (or cross cultural differences in colour genderization, which is likely to blame for today's incident).  "He's so cute!"
"Why thank you!"
She doesn't know the difference.  And I don't mind.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, good natured though it is, it kind of ruffles my feathers when people get their feathers ruffled by my nonchalance regarding Amarys' gender.  I'm her mom, and I don't care, and I think it's good for Amarys to grow up in a family where sometimes she's just a kid, rather than a boy or a girl, you know what I mean?


Caryn Ouwehand said...

Silas loves to play with my makeup because he thinks it is "facepaint!" And I don't care one bit! I think it is adorable when he tries to decourate his own face. The other day we were running an errand at the lady at the til laughed and said, 'Wow, your little boy is wearing makeup", I responded, "Yeah, how 'bout that hey?"

What a loser. Who cares. Let the kids be kids.

melissa said...

Caryn, you're awesome.

ms emili louann said...

I prefer gender neutral clothing for my children, though many pieces are hand-me-downs and therefore - lots of trucks and blues, all that "boy" stuff, you know. It's all good - I love a good hand-me-down! :o)

Elijah was called "she" FOUR times last week, and I'm assuming it's simply for his long tresses, which makes me giggle. Here he is (on one day in particular) wearing a blue sleeveless top with yellow dinosaurs, green shorts, and black crocs, hulk-smashing the picnic table, and he's a she because of his long, beautiful hair. Whatever. It doesn't get me riled up.

What DOES get me riled up, however, is when people raise eyebrows that I have him help me in the kitchen or help me with house chores. WTF? Really, people?

Tonya said...

I found it didn't matter what I put my kids in for clothing, some people just don't pay attention! :-) Kudos to you for not caring if they get it wrong.

Shannon Hillinger said...

I have this theory that people mostly guess infant gender by whether or not they have hair. My daughter's hair didn't really start growing until she was 18 months or so, and she got called a boy a lot, even when wearing dresses and headbands.
Admittedly, most of her clothes came from the boy sections for the first couple of years because that's where the bright colors and cute animals were, versus the pastels (which I am not a fan of) and flowers in the girls section. I did have a few people get actually angry at me for not making it obvious that she was a girl, but I just walked away from them.

melissa said...

Yes, its the actually angry people I really don't get...

lori said...

Oh man, Zoralee was continually referred to as a boy by strangers, no matter the colors she wore. I got a real kick out of it the times she couldn't have looked girlier.

and Oh woman (to be equal), I am with the fellow commenter about pastels. I truly don't understand why the marketing world still believes people want to dress their boys in bold primary colors and their girls in light pinks and yellows, and that we want there to be moronic little cartoon figures on all articles of clothing. We do not, I say. Do NOT.

lori said...

And that is the best expression on Amarys' face to end the post with.

She is so stinking adorable.

Rachel Clear @ Clearly Speaking said...

Agreed. I like that it doesn't bother you. I have a friend who dresses her kids in gender neutral clothing, but gets SUPER PISSED when people assume her little boy is a girl. She is all about treating kids as though they are androgenous, and I get it, sort of. But to be pissed?! Puhlease! Who cares!

And, I totally agree about not putting kids in boxes as far as what they will like/dislike, what they should do/not do, etc., But to me, calling a kid a boy or a girl isn't really a box, it's just an obvious, natural label that is God-given, not assigned by us. You know? I think in our ubersensitive culture, there is a disconnect between these two ideas. Calling a boy a boy seems perfectly fine. We are the parents. We are supposed to teach our kids basic things like this. But telling a boy what he will be like BECAUSE he is a boy... that's a problem. Anyways, great post.

I am working on one this morning about the differences between baby boys and girls (because I'm around a LOT of babies these days), and I'm hoping it comes out okay, and not like I'm just totally stereotyping (although I am). :)